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Greeting From Sunny Somalia | Steve Dennis

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From his photo album: Galcayo, Puntland, Somalia January 2005 - June 2005



Galcayo International Airport



From the roof of our living compound



Our lovely living compound



Two bedrooms (mine is the one on the right) complete with veranda. The landlord here really made a nice place for us.



Sitting outside my room, working on Friday, with a little music



Weird Space Bug



Galcayo South Hospital



Galcayo South Hospital clinic


Well, I’ve been here in Galcayo, Somalia, now for 1 week. What a place, again I’ve found myself in a different setting, different culture, different everything. And again, finding common characteristics in all people. A smile will break down a sick child’s frown, a mispronounced "mahatsanid" (Somali: thank you) will turn a quiet driver to laughter and a silent slow nodding of the head will tell fellow team members that "despite the heat, the culture and other changes, I’ll get on alright, thanks for asking."


Today is the holy day of Friday, a day off; a break to the weekly activities. Saturday, back to work. Odd concept, working Saturday to Thursday, but I’ll give it a go. I think it would be best for me to learn the Somali names for the days of the week, and just pretend it is a Monday to Saturday workweek.


Speaking of learning Somali, I have befriended a guard, "Abi" and started some lessons. Mahatsanid (thank you), subaah wanagsan (good morning), galaponagsan (good afternoon), haben wanagsan (good evening) and innyaar (little), or as it is expressed innyaar innyaar (little little), or as I can tell by his patient tone, "take it easy Steve, take it little at a time."


There is some Arabic used here too, so some words and expressions I learned in Sudan apply. I have a working knowledge of bits of many languages now, but no fair/good knowledge of any, but English. It is a little confusing. It seems so appropriate to toast a drink, "proust!" (German), to tell kids to come here, "beta beta," (Nuer), to describe that there are no problems, "pretchen iilee!" (Tamil), or to give a good big greeting in the morning of a day off, "Holaaaaaa!!!"


Sometimes I find the expressions of the place I’m in, don’t fully express my emotion. For example, "Sorry" in English doesn’t fully encompass the sorrow and responsibility allocated to the maker for the way things are, as much as "Malesh" does in Arabic (or prior to something happening, "enshala’" God willing.) The English phrase, "why not?" doesn’t carry the relaxed meaning associated with a simple, "Por que no?" when accepting just one more drink for the night outside on the patio. Also, I find western culture is very separated from words to take things slower, such as "poli poli" (Swahili "slowly slowly"), or "poco a poco" (Spanish, "little by little"). Even our lazy, "take it easy" is often expressed as one word "take’t’easy" as one is rushing off, definitely not taking it easy at all. In my travels, I do see a strong link between the common words used, and the culture that uses them. (There is no, "Cheers" or "Proust" here.) Anyway, to sum up this ramble on languages, I enjoying learning the languages of the places I travel to. But more so, I’m enjoying seeing how much the culture and sociology of a place, comes out in the language. You can’t wish someone happy big sweet greetings, if there aren’t words for such pleasantries.


Once again, I feel privileged to live in another culture. I find language and religion, cornerstones to the culture here. I plan over my time here to learn some Somali, and learn about Islam. It is indisputable that Islam is the sole religion here. At approximately 0400 the mosque just behind the compound erupts in song, as the call to prayer is made before sunrise. Again through the day at 1230, 1500, and 1930 the loudspeakers illuminate the streets with song. Meetings usually don’t run through those times, as people courteously excuse themselves to pray. If a medical person is held up in clinic through the prayer times, they excuse themselves when they can afterwards and pray then. Prayer, as I’ve seen it, is a modest withdrawal of someone to a quiet part of a clinic, office, or as I’ve seen elsewhere, train-station, airport, or side of an airstrip. The direction to Mecca is determined and a mat spread out in front of the person. The person carries out a ritual, or ceremony, at different times kneeling and touching their head to the mat, as they pray. There is something very peaceful in witnessing someone faithfully consumed in prayer. I look forward to learning more about Islam, for one, I feel ignorant about this culture I am surrounded in, but also, I believe it is a vastly unknown world religion.


So, what is it like here? What does Galcayo, Somalia look, taste, smell, sound, feel like? What are my first impressions, and some later ones?


Well, the flight here is a good enough starting point. I should really say, "flights" here, as I took 4 planes to arrive in Galcayo (Toronto-London-Amsterdam-Nairobi-Galcayo). I’ll talk about the last one, as the others were nice and uneventful.


0430 I woke up on Saturday morning. After a small night out in Nairobi with some of my new team and Heinz, my PC from South Sudan, coming back from R&R, I woke to a battery of alarm clocks that I travel with (just to make sure I don’t miss a flight.)


By 0700 we were checked into the airport and waiting to board. The planes we use to get into Galcayo are larger planes than Sudan, holding approximately 20 people. I guess you can tell if a group of people is booked on a plane going to a bush site. Chic handbags are replaced with plastic bags, bound with cheap string and more plastic. Rules like "your handbag must be less than 10kgs and fit into this little box" don’t apply. The other planes loaded through gangways, we walked around the tarmac a little to get to the plane.


We boarded the plane, the last of the bags were thrown in the back, and the engines started. I taught the person beside me how to buckle up his seat belt. He was happy with my instruction, as I was, not having any common words. A brief alarm set in when he couldn’t undo the belt, but after I showed him the secret of the lever release, a smile set in and we became friends. He started telling me something, but I wasn’t quite up for the, "smile and try to figure out what he says," routine, so I signaled "tired" and dosed off as we departed Nairobi, Kenya, for my next adventure.


I awoke somewhere over the South of Somalia. Out the window was a similar vast expanse of nothing. A little brown here, a little beige there, all over the place. Occasionally there was a dirt road, but nothing else. So back to sleep I ventured.


I awoke again to the feeling of descending. The rhythm of ears pressurizing, sound fading, I adjust my jaw, then the sound of the engines returns; I doze off again. Then the cycle repeats. We are at a few hundred feet, I want to see this, so I stay awake. We are first stopping by Mogadishu to re-fuel, then to Galcayo. We get lower and lower, but no city can be seen, or buildings at all. At 20 feet or so, I still cannot see the runway. (I’m only looking out the side window though, and curiosity turns to hope.) 10 feet, nothing. 5 feet may have come, but I wasn’t looking anymore, and we land. The landing went well, but still no buildings. We taxi around a bit and finally I see three wrecked buildings and a loose gate system. (There was an old truck bumper across the road to the airstrip. When a truck arrived, a boy lifted the bumper to the side, and the truck drove through. The boy replaced the bumper and resumed his post in the shade.)


Before the plane stopped, everyone was up and pushing hard to get to the door at the back of the plane. Funny enough, the flight engineer was at the front pushing to get to the back to open that door. His Russian words didn’t make much headway on their Somali ears. A person near me, saw me sitting it out, and he said with glowing eyes, "don’t you want to see Mog?" I was stuck for words at the comedy of the situation.


Finally, everyone was off the plane. It seemed like random bags were taken off the plane and some passengers departed. A wooden cart with a small petrol pump was brought out and a stream of boys pushing fuel barrels came to the scene. I stretched my legs and wandered a little. I got a hundred feet from the plane and noticed I was 20 odd feet from an armed guard, not smiling, just standing there in the sun at the ready. "Okay," I thought to myself, "let’s see if the smiling theory works here too." And so, to test a building theory I have going, I smile and nod to the guard. He quickly removed his hands from his gun as he gave me a full two-handed wave and big smile. I remember thinking at that moment, "I wish I knew the words for, ‘hot sun today, eh?’ for that would have made me the talk of his family that night." (Well I know now, "galaponagsan, se-ar-tahi?" Good afternoon, what is your situation (how are you)?)


Fueling went on, and the sun came out. It is cool when standing under a wing, or when a cloud is out, but damn that tropic sun can cook!


Back on the plane we went. There was some urgency to get on, as a crowd was forming at the door, and rough calculations suggested seats on the plane would be limited, and people left behind. We all got on alright, then back in the air.


An hour and a bit later, we started down again. This time there were some structures, then many. I could see a large town forming, but a rustic one. I tried to take some photos, but my camera jammed. By the time I looked up, we were landing. The snapshot I have, is of many single story buildings with iron sheet roofs. All of the buildings were a dusty brown colour, as was the dust and ground. There were some Mosques around the town, painted white, but everything else was light brown.


This time, landing not everyone got up at first. "Well, we learned a little since last time," again, I only thought, and didn’t project in words. I remained sitting there after the door was opened, as my seatmate wasn’t moving and I thought I would take from his patient example. Someone leaned over to me, and said, "they are not re-fueling here, and some people are staying on to another location, you may want to come now." Good to know; casually I was one of the last to leave the plane. Before I left, I noticed the female expats from the team putting on headscarves to cover their hair. Ah yes, I remember where we are. Part of the Muslim culture we are working in demands many things from females; this was one of them.


The most unusual thing came rolling forward from the "terminal" building. (The terminal building is really just a shack, approximately 15 feet by 10 feet, with some fuel barrels and a couple of derelict trucks. This thing, moved up to the side of the plane, projecting its long skinny platform to the plane’s open door. Behind it, a truck pulled up to the other end of the narrow platform. Then with an odd noise, the rubber belt on the platform moved from the plane to the truck. Skillfully people placed bags on the belt, and offloaded them on the truck. This was a shiny new looking conveyor belt for moving cargo 12 feet backwards. I wouldn’t blink if I saw it in Pearson Airport, but here, it was a little out of place. (Especially since there was no reason I could find for the truck not to just pull up to the plane. But, someone made some money off getting that thing here, so it must be used.)


This machine also alerted me to an issue I have been confronted with a lot here. There is a thriving economy here, yet there are kids being brought to the clinic that are 50% of what they should weigh (that is an African scale, they would be maybe 35% of what a western baby should weigh). These kids are tiny. When you look at them, you wonder what force on Earth is so great to do that to a little baby, then a cell phone rings.


In Sudan, things were relatively easier. It was some rich *******s fighting over oil, and 5 steps removed from that, there were poor people without medical care. Here, there are different lines from the rich to the poor (the haves and have nots) and the lines aren’t so straight. I have learned a little about Somalia now, and it all leads to, "well, it isn’t that simple." A few days ago, the office administrator was describing to me, some of the dynamics at play in the Somali government and clan structures. Any time I thought I understood his explanations, and I reiterated them back at him, he said, "well, no, it is a little more complicated than that." Usually, he would also say, "yes they are one: clan/tribe/previous colony/administrative boundary/province/people/language/etc, but they are divided by: sub-clan/family/fiefdom/commander/governor/etc." This went on for a couple hours, and in the end, I understand nothing, except that I understand nothing (and that Somalia is very divided, along many lines.) In humanitarian industry terms, this is a "complex context".


From the airport we drove along random bumpy dirt paths, all leading to town. We passed the dump, (smelly) the cemetery (smelly too), and town (not as smelly as I would have thought, actually, not smelly at all.) The town, as seen from above, was one-story buildings with stone walls, iron roofs and the occasional mosque.


We arrived at the compound and the guard opened the gate and we drove in. (This is unusual I found out, but they do it to expats from the airport. It gives new people time to adjust, and give female expats time to don more appropriate clothing. (More appropriate clothing defined: The expats here take the advice from the local staff on how to dress in public. Mostly, females are required to cover all hair, skin and shape, except for feet, hands and faces. For men, it is easier, no earrings, necklaces, and pants longer than your knees. I sympathize with the female expats here, covering one’s hair on a hot day must be difficult. They are quite good humored about it, and accept it as just the way it is. There are a couple of expats who have been here a while who look quite elegant in a headscarf, I think they are a good example of casually mixing the style with the culture.)


The compound was a nice surprise, coming from Sudan, and a reminder of some compromises I make, coming from Canada. It does have everything one needs and some added comforts. We have a steady power supply from the town generator!!! (That means cold drinks and lights for everyone!) We have a great shower water set-up on the roof where town water is heated in the sun and can be piped in adjustable quantities (mixed with cold water) in the shower. We have beds, we have large bedrooms, and we even have a TV too! We even have… toilets (real flushing ones)! But, yeah, the magic does wear out for those of you wanting to vacation in Galcayo next winter. Most of the houses and accommodation are concrete, (painted though) and it is pretty dusty (anything not concrete is hard ground or dust).


I took a break and now it is Tuesday January 18.


I continue…


As for other living things like food, it is good, but… Let me tell you about the food.


I arrived just around lunchtime. There on the table were three pots for lunch. As the others did, I grabbed a plate and looked ahead to a great meal. There was rice (I like rice), there was a lentil curry (I like lentil curries) and there was a goat curry (wow I like that too.) "This is a good meal" I declared my pleasant surprise. "You enjoy lentil and goat curries?" One of the team asked. "Yeah, I can think of worse things to eat." "Good attitude Steve, welcome." And as I looked around, everyone really had a welcoming look on their face. Wow, good food, welcoming people, this is a good start, no?


Dinner was left overs, with a tuna/rice mixed dish, but I was too interested in the goat curry to look at the tuna thing. This is all good!


Day 2 lunch: Three pots on the table. Pot one: Rice, I like rice. Pot two: lentils, like those too. Pot three: Goat Curry. I see a pattern evolving. Some of the team looks up at me, in reference to yesterday’s comments. (clearly I am the new one here). I nod and smile; what a wonderful neutral ambiguous expression. I think I am mastering it. They nod, knowingly.


Day 3 Lunch: Three pots on the table, same as yesterday and the day before. I feel people’s anticipation stare a comment out of me. "Ah, I think I know what the cook likes cooking." Ah, the new one has caught on. "Still good?" "All good, all good."


Day 4, 5, 6, lunch: Three pots on the table; rice, lentils and goat curry. I thought that would limit conversation, but in the lack of variety, one can discuss, "ah, it’s pretty spicy today," or "how many days till Friday?"


Day 7, Friday: Friday is that holy day of rest, and the cook rests too, so we cook. Lunch was a nice pasta meal, and dinner was a wonderful chicken on the grill. It was a wonderful meal, and a culinary divide from the regular week.


Day 8-11 lunch: Three pots, rice, lentils and goat curry.


Tomorrow is day 12, maybe Raman (the cook) is on a 12 day cycle and things are going to mix up a little, maybe. Fortunately, they are very nice curries that she does, and I can imagine many inferior alternatives to the three pots.


Besides that, life in Galcayo: It is fairly cool here. Temperatures right now are in the high twenties. During the day it is hotter, and in the evening, I am very close to needing a bed sheet for warmth. The sound of a mosque is always nearby. There are cars and trucks around, even though I don’t think any road work has ever been done to the spaces in town called roads. There are goats, kids and cars running around in the streets. At night on the street our compound is on, there are streetlights even. Many people are in the streets, walking around and socializing. I like living in places where you can stop on the street and chat with people.


Galcayo is also a business center. It is on the main tarmac road from Bosaasa in the north, to Mogadishu in the south. Many things are available here and much technology resides in Galcayo. As I mentioned, there are cell phones here. There are also internet cafes and TVs in restaurants and probably in homes too. There are no taxes on many things, and no regulation on technology (radio frequencies and other licenses related to that.) Somalia is close to Dubai as well, and as such there are cheap trading routes here with new cars, etc. There is definitely a business community of "haves" surrounded by the "have-nots".


In Galcayo, MSF has just signed an agreement with the hospital to take over much of the responsibilities. Drug supply, supervision of care, training, laboratory, are just some of the areas we are working in. One that I am involved with, is the TFC (Therapeutic Feeding Centre). A TFC is a clinic to take thin babies and adults and make them close to normal. It involved intensive care for the worse ones, and more normal feedings for others. Back last year, the hospital (before MSF moved from supporting the hospital to taking a more active role) was running a TFC, however the death rate of patients was up near 45%. Since MSF got involved those numbers lowered to a usual ~5% or so. There will always be those that come in on their last breath.


In November 2004, for the first time in 4 years, it rained in Galcayo. It rained for 8 days. This is good for the plants, but for people it isn’t all good. All the dried up crap that has been floating around in the dust, blows into puddles, and if your water supply is a pump a long walk away, you may drink from that puddle, ingest the crap, and get sick. In November the number of cases in the TFC went up, and in December, the number climbed very high, very quickly, all of the patients had diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is one of those messy problems that get messier when left alone, sometimes quickly. Cholera is a diarrhoeal disease, and in Rwanda an outbreak killed 50,000 people. Anyway, enough of that shtalk, it was decided that some water and sanitation topics needed to be improved and room had to be made to accommodate a larger and larger TFC population. I came here to help deal with some of those issues, before moving on to be Project Coordinator of the new TB project.


Oh, one more thing. I came here earlier than I was supposing to. As such, I will be missing an important promise I made. I was really unsure if I should miss out on one commitment for another. With unsure guidelines to follow, I chose to come here. I think given the same choice again, I would have stayed home and fulfilled my other commitment. I guess the after thought of wanting a different choice next time in the same situation is regret. Through my time in Amsterdam, this regret formed and built. Fortunately, I got the great advice from someone briefing me, "learn from it." Well, I will. I’m sad that the good lessons hurt, but they stick longer that way I suppose.


Well, it is late Tuesday evening. The evening winds are blowing. The street noise has died down. The guards are looking in to see who is in the office, as I’m sure they would like to lie down a little bit without being noticed. I hope that is a decent brief synopsis of how things are here, for now. I’ll write more on the context and about project related stuff as I can. For now, know that things are well, learning lots everyday.


Cheers, Love,




More Click Here

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First Class Ticket out of Galcayo



Public Transport System



Mosque on the road to Burtinle



Waterpoint for camels



My last departure from Galcayo, posing with guards and drivers. This is at the Galcayo Airport.



Well, it is almost a month now that I have been in Somalia. That was pretty quick. I don’t feel the chill of January in Canada in my bones, skin, or in fact anywhere. I guess it has been a month then.



I’ll get into the specifics of what I’m doing here later. For now, some comments about Galcayo. I still don’t know if I like it here. There is one thing that keeps happening to me that I’m not too happy about. Kids, (little boys around 6-10 years old) keep putting on angry faces and generally show off that they don’t like you. Driving to the airport one day, a group of kids were playing, then one yelled something in our general direction (probably, “hey, here come some white folksâ€) and the group divided, some cheering and waving, some yelling and putting their fists in the air. One kid ran up to the car and tried spitting on it as it passed. Funny little kid; really makes me wonder though.



To be fair, I remember being a kid and up to no good around the neighborhood; occasionally throwing something at a moving train, road sign, or whatever I wanted to, regardless of right and wrong. No malice in my actions to the train or signs, but maybe just finding an outlet for my rebellious youth. I wonder if this is the same with these kids.



Today, a kid (probably no more than 8) came to the door of a store I was in, and was holding a knife. This wasn’t a butter knife, but something you bring hunting small game with. Anyway, he held it there and started saying some things and waving it around, then he put on that same angry face and started pointing at people with the knife. As many times before, I looked around at others to see if their faces would let me know how I should react to this. And there, around the store, a couple people watched this kid, like it was a 3 o’clock in the morning infomercial, no emotion on their stare. My assistant turned back to the storekeeper to conclude our business, and there I was, just looking at this kid, confused. I didn’t feel threatened at all, as this kid was about the size of my five-year-old nephew, but this is leading to a trend. What is going on here? Not with this kid, but many of the kids. This kid was the most vocal and active of the ones I’ve seen, but his face was similar to the others. I believe this kid hates me, my skin colour, and/or finds me as an outlet for his rebellious youth; a focus for some frustration he holds.



There is a wonderful word I have learned recently, “Bufis.†Bufis defined: Descriptive to a 3rd person, (“that man is Bufis!â€) Descriptive to an object built by a person: (“See how they build that wall, kind of on an angle?†“Yeah.†“Bufis.†“Yup.â€) Descriptive to a person, based on something they did, ie: non-logic thinking, (“I thought I would try to improve the system. The building didn’t work out so well because not everyone knew the new system.†“What was wrong with ‘the metric system’?†“There is always room for improvement, no?†“You are Bufis.â€) A person, a building, a system, a discontinuity in the logic, all constitutes “Bufisâ€. Now that I have learned this word, I hear it all the time. “Blah blah blah, bufis.†“Haa (Somali for ‘yes’)†I think my Somali speaking skills have doubled since I learned that one word.



I don’t know yet whether I can use “Bufis†to describe my observation of these kids. I think not. I think Bufis is a good word to describe a situation like, “wouldn’t it be funny if that was the last gas station for the next 200kms.†But 150kms into the road without a station, it isn’t funny anymore, it has stopped being a Bufis situation; it is serious. I’m curious to learn more about Somalis and why the kids wear angry faces so young. What at first looked Bufis, now isn’t funny any more.



Speaking of learning Somali. I’ve been confused lately about all the greetings, so today I compiled the ones I know:



Quora wanaagsan – Good Breakfast

Malin wanaagsan – Good Day

Subaah wanaagsan – Good Morning

Duhur wanaagsan – Good Mid-day

Qado wanaagsan – Good Lunch

Galap wanaagsan – Good Afternoon

Fe-ed wanaagsan – Good Evening

Asho wanaagsan – Good Dinner

Haben wanaagsan – Good Night



The funny thing is, I still don’t know how to say hello in Somali. Usually I revert to Salaam, (Arabic), but everything else here is a “good (quick think hard. Is it morning, or evening? Is the person going to a meal? Hurry, pick one!) afternoon.†It seems hard, but for every phrase I have learned (except for Bufis), an English one or two can be thought of. Just a note: I’m still enjoying learning the language, turtip, turtip, (slowly slowly.)



So, this is the 6th day of the TB program we are starting up. Unfortunately, Irene (our Doctor) is stuck in Nairobi right now. She went to Ethiopia to visit a similar TB program there, but just a couple days before she was to fly in, the organization that provides us with most of our flights, had some problems, and all flights are cancelled. So, she comes in a week when we charter our own flights.



But, we have started 6 days ago. Starting a TB program sounds big, and it is, just we are doing those little steps at the beginning of a big hike. The first few steps are almost effortless.



The project will do the following activities.


Take over the responsibility of two existing, but not-supported, clinics (treating approximately 200 patients now.)

Evaluate the existing clinics, clinic staff and facilities.

Train staff as needed.

Prepare for large increases in patients.

Once those two clinics are running smoothly, then spread out a little to the 120km stretch of land between the two clinics by setting up TB referral systems and rough diagnostics in more remote areas. Still with most treatment in the two centres.

Further along the timeline, we would offer diagnotsitcs and treatment to nomadic rural patients who do not have access to the current health facilities, yet suffer from TB all the same.

The last parts of this will be done in 4-6 months from now. Right now, we’re just taking baby steps. We have been given a room in the clinic, set up an office, had a local carpenter build us some tables, bought some chairs, cell phones, books, paper, etc. We have met with the staff and have heard 20 ways how the salary is not enough and not acceptable. As well, there is a bunch of administration that is now part of my job description as Project Coordinator. Security guidelines have to be changed to incorporate our program running outside of town. Job descriptions need to be finalized. Orders still need to be going out and coming in. Etc, etc.



The issue regarding staff salaries is a funny one. In many aspects I believe it is a wonderful textbook example of a two-sided negotiation; Directors vs. Shareholders, Labour vs. Management, or maybe even Israel vs. Palestine. There are parts that are unfair all around, and it is a matter of sorting out which ones can and cannot be agreed on. Today was a good day in this negotiation, but let me give you a little background.



During my briefings, I heard many times, “those Somalis are difficult people to deal with. They will ask, ask, ask, and it will take a lot of effort not to loose your shirt in the meetings. Taking over the clinics is tricky too, Steve. They haven’t been paid for the last year since that other NGO left, and now they want MSF to pay last year’s salary as well as hire all their staff and pay more than our regular salary scale. Bon chance!†Gulp, “Er, thanks.â€



At my first meeting with the staff, within two minutes, after a couple pleasantries came the comments, “What do you plan to pay us?†and before I could answer, “That is hardly enough.â€



As I said, this negotiation has been a rewarding challenge. Rewarding, because I am applying some formal negotiating ideas I’ve been learning, and to date, the staff are satisfied, and we have built a relationship, solving this problem together. I think it really helped explaining how MSF wasn’t like other NGOs, paying salaries and leaving, but rather working with staff, ensuring quality care, living in the communities we work in, etc. Also, as if by cue, a couple of staff members said things like, “I was in a refugee camp in Kenya, and MSF was there before others arrived, and they didn’t get involved in the politics, just like you said Steve.†Good luck working with me here in Galcayo, so far.



Anyway, things with the program are going well. We have some big challenges ahead of us, mostly focusing our program to something achievable. Right now, it is plainly obvious, there is absolutely so much TB in Somalia, and to treat it all, is not a reasonable goal at the moment. Now, we must build on what is here, (skills and clinics) and take it from there. Note: Back in July, MSF built a feeding centre to take over control of malnourished children treatment. Mortality rates in the hospital were approximately 45%, very unacceptable. Anyway, within some months, numbers rose from 30 to 50 to 80 to 120, very quickly. Most people say that once the population knows there is treatment somewhere, everyone travels there to get treatment. We think similar things will happen with us starting to take over the TB clinic. Right now there are 200 people in the two clinics we are taking over, I’m concerned that number will grow quickly.



That isn’t my biggest concern with the program though. More on that below. Have to go now.



Lots of Love,






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I thought the lady with the red scarf was sniffing coke from the the paper, for a minute. She bends so close to the table. How can you write like that?




This looks like the place I used herd camels. Nice little isolated building.......I am assuming that is a mosque so who exactly prays there when the area seems to be completely deserted of any living things besides trees?

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I just looked at the pictures, could'nt be bothered to read the post; it's way too long. Nice pics though. :D

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Breathtaking photos.


don’t know yet whether I can use “Bufis†to describe my observation of these kids.

Write word to describe him.

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lovely pics.... am really excited to see the pic of the mosque in Burtinle..thats my mothers hometown..i have visited burtinle twice in my life..once i was 2..dont remember anything from that trip. and once when i was 7. my grandmother lives there now.. i plan to visit her soon( dont really know when ).



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Gaalkacyo International Airport{?!}


If we can call a makeshift airport "international," then what is really next? It doesn't even have a paved road, let alone a little proper terminal (or are these two little baraakos, a la iskaabulo qol considered to be terminal?).


Oh, I forgot the little diyaaradaha that bring jaad from Neyroobi are considred to be international flights.

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If we can call a makeshift airport "international," then what is really next? It doesn't even have a paved road, let alone a little proper terminal (or are these two little baraakos, a la iskaabulo qol considered to be terminal?).

Just try to investigate the pic first before you jump to conclusion sxb. To the right side of the pic i see something that looks like an airport(Can't call it international yet), and i can tell you, it will not require a 3D vision.

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MMA, the runway is not visible on the picture. But it is definetily paved, albeit in very bad shape. As haaruun pointed out, you can see a bit of the airport on the right.

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I haven't checked the links attached but read everything in the article. Very informative. For those who have families in town, and who may read this article, Shouldn't they contact the group and offer their moral support? Explain the culture a bit and even promise to pay the group a visit in the future?


Gegida waa beellee intee wax xun ka aragteen? Good airport for a small carro guduud town.

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I have emailed this guy Steve Dennis, explained him the Somali culture, shared him my experiences in Gaalkacyo and thanked him for the valuable work in Gaalkacyo.


These NGO workers shouldn't be taken for granted. We need to thank them, when we get the chance. He explains in another chapter of his journals that he deliberately chose to go to Somalia, because donors don't think its as 'sexy' as Southeast Asia and Darfur for instance.


Overall he came to Gaalkacyo with a good attitude.


Young Jeezy, there is more to that Mosque pic than meets the eye. Check those piles of stones around the mosque. That means that individuals are planning to build on that land between the piles of rocks. Some white folks think its sacred holy ground when they see it, but those rocks are just future building material.

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Here is another collection of journals I found about Gaalkacyo by another NGO worker (This time Australian) who helped set up a clinic in Balambal, Buur Saalax and Goldogob villages etc and Gaalkacyo in Mudug. This is from a period when Colonels Jaamac Cali Jaamac and Cabdulahi Yusuf Yeey were vying for power in NE Somalia. I think its interesting to see how foreigners experience living in Somalia. They somehow always fall in love with the Somali people. The most famous of course being Gerald Hanley who lived 3 years in Nugaal among the local nomads and later wrote the book; Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis where he described the Somalis; “Of all the races of Africa, there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest; the Somalisâ€


Last days



A Somali mother in the new Galcayo peadiatric ward


The last few months have been quite an experience for this stranger in a strange land. I have been trying to find words to describe what I have seen since I last wrote but even my much vaunted skills of verbal diarrhoea have failed to do it justice. Many of these experiences are perhaps better recounted in person, over a cold beer or ten.


So now I am less than a week from End of Mission and trying to put together the pieces. Now that I’m finally understanding what’s going on, it’s over. Kind of like life really…


Still, time for one last anecdote for the bush before I sign off.


Yesterday we went to Goldogb to help with an EPI (Expanded Program of Immunisation) mobilisation. Goldogob is very close to the Ethiopian border, in fact, the Thurya satellite phone says it is Ethiopia. Considering it borders an area known as the ******, a hotly disputed territory between the two countries, it’s best not to mention things like that too loudly.


We arrived to a screaming, teeming horde of children, waiting with their ninja hooded mothers to be vaccinated. As there was only one of the OPD staff there, the new nurse and her translator jumped in and helped. In true logistician style I sat back and took notes, occasionally helping to measure a child.


Meanwhile, the children struggled, squealed and generally made life difficult for all involved. Ah, the joy of it all. Strangely enough, I find Somali children don’t irritate me the same way western children do. I sat outside for a while and entertained them with my goat impressions and flinging paper planes at them. Considering my white skin is enough to fascinate them for hours, it must have been a hoot.


All in all it was quite uplifting. We helped vaccinate 31 children against diseases we take for granted in the west but are sure-fire killers here. It was also sad, seeing the way that the children struggled so much in what will probably be one of the most painless experiences of their lives. Certainly, the next time that many of the girls are dragged into a dark room with strange women waiting inside, it will be a much more painful and denigrating experience then a couple of needle jabs. Female genital mutilation is performed on 97% of females here and it is a practice that is perpetuated by the women themselves. These same mothers who care enough for their children to have them immunised will also put them through the most brutal act that could be inflicted on an innocent eight year old girl. A sad footnote for what was an otherwise very positive experience.


Undoubtedly, the highlight of the day was watching one family role up in a ‘technical’. A technical is a flatbed pickup with some form of heavy armament mounted on the back. This particular number was sporting a 105mm recoilless rifle, a deadly anti-tank weapon. Imagine what getting a lift to school with dad would be like? Better still, what would it be like when the kids grow up?

“Hey dad, can I borrow the car tonight?â€

“Alright, just as long as you fill up the tank and don’t kill anybody we knowâ€


Now I’m back in the compound, busily typing up my handover report and getting things ready for my replacement. I’m acting team leader again, and have been working 16 hour days to try and get everything done. I’m very tired and looking forward to a nice long rest before I venture out into the bush again. In the next few days I will move out of the room that has been my sanctum sanctorum for the last six months and into a hotel down the road. Thursday I fly back to Nairobi and by Saturday morning, I will be back in Amsterdam, InshAllah, dazed and confused.


It almost seems like six months has been no time at all. When I first arrived it seemed like an eternity stretching before me. In a way I regret choosing not to extend, but sometime I also think that if I stay here much longer, I may not leave. There is something about this place I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s just what you become used to, and as Abbi, the chief guard has said, I have become a citizen of Galcayo. Maybe my body won’t be here for much longer, but I doubt I will forget Somalia in a hurry.



Hot nights and cold receptions



Well, things have been relatively quiet around here. Last Monday night we heard our first big fire-fight. It lasted for about 20 minutes with about 100 rounds fired. It was about 300 metres from our compound and I heard several of the bullets whistle over our roof. The problem with most gunshots is that you are unlikely to hear the one that kills you. The round from an AK-47 travels at over 1100 metres a second, faster than the speed of sound. Hence it will have passed right through you before you even heard it being fired. The fire-fight turned out to be nothing more than a robbery. Somalis generally don't believe in things like stealth or subtlety, since they all carry automatic weapons. They just blaze on in and hope for the best. Aiming is also optional, which is why most casualties are bystanders caught in the crossfire.


There are almost as many guns here as in the US. You don't actually see many, but you know they are there. This was brought home to me on Tuesday when we were unloading the monthly drug order at the hospital. Being the only Gaal (white person) presently in Galcayo, I tend to draw a crowd of children wherever I go and this morning was no exception. One child, about 6, came right up to the car door to look inside and I noticed he was sucking on something. Now, this isn't unusual for kids anywhere in the world, except that it was an AK-47 bullet!


Shining through the dust, spent shells, dead batteries and used needles litter the ground surrounding the hospital. The children, who have never known anything else, innocently play with discarded syringes and used examination gloves as they run around barefoot. Waste management in this place isn’t an accident waiting to happen, it’s an accident in progress. The work of a Log is never done…


Bitter old men and their fading dreams of power


Sadly, the Ethiopian peace talks between Jama Ali Jama and Abdulai Yussuf have failed. Both have returned to their respective centres of power and begun preparations for war. Word from Bosasso is that the supporters of Jama Ali Jama don’t intend to give in without a fight. Abdulai is insisting he will take the town no matter what it takes. Generals never raise armies that they don’t intend to use. Both Abdulai and Jama are classic examples of why Somalia has been wracked by brutal civil war for over 10 years. Political figures in the former government of Siad Barre, both think they are the only suitable president for Puntland and they are willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds, if not thousands to prove it. Abdulai is a tough old ******* - a general in the various campaigns against Ethiopia in the 70’s and 80’s, he hasn’t let a liver transplant slow him down. Jama is the younger of the two but that isn’t saying much, as he’s now pushing 50.


The road to Bosasso winds through a rugged mountain range, which Abdi jokingly calls “Torra Borraâ€. It is has always been the stumbling block for any warlord wishing to take Bosasso. The fighting here will surely be bloody and brutal. Abdulai is preparing to risk it all in one last desperate push for power – an old mans dreams of faded glory.


You would have thought that after so many years of bloodshed that the Somali people would have had enough, but like a haggard old heroin user, they keep convincing themselves that the next hit will be the last… As with all conflicts it is those who have the least to gain that will suffer the most. Women, children and the poor are the real victims, even though they may be miles from the fighting. In a patriarchal society like Somalia, the death of a women’s husband can leave her stranded without any means to support herself or her children. Many Bantus (nomads) and poor people of Bosasso will be displaced by the fighting or killed in the crossfire. With no clan to represent their interests, they are disposable. So much suffering just so one old man can proclaim himself the president of Puntland. A hollow victory, for the winner will inherit a state scared by war, wracked with disease and poverty and brutalised to the point of madness.


I suggested that they should have a wrestling match to decide who the president should be. The last one standing wins! ‘The Bosasso Strangler’ Jama Ali Jama versus the ‘Mad Mullah’ Abdulai Yussuf. Let’s get ready to rummmmmble.


Somehow, I don’t think so…


Road worriers


On Thursday, we went to Balanbal to inspect the progress of at health post we are rehabilitating. The drive is quite long – one and a half hours on the ‘tarmac’ as the Somalis call the only piece of sealed road in the entire country, and one and a half hours cross country. The off road part of the journey is the most spectacular, as you traverse the prairies and perennial creeks of this rugged landscape. It is a lot greener since the rains, but not quite enough for the nomads to start moving their flocks.


Despite the arid, harsh conditions, life, as always, finds a way. Squirrels dart about underneath shrubs and make nests in the roofs of huts. Tiny gazelle like creatures called ‘deg deg’ (Somali for ‘quickly’) dart about. Deg degs pair up for life, so you will never see just one by themselves. It is said that if a deg deg loses its partner, it dies of sorrow soon after. Then there are the numerous lizards of all shapes and sizes which slither about in the undergrowth and on the walls of the buildings. Lumbering across the plains come the camels, in their hundreds, usually with a small boy not far behind. You’re never sure who is the one being herded.


As I have come to expect, Somalis rate each and every creature they see in terms of how tasty it is. Cats, which are abundant in the towns, rate poorly. Abdi was positively smacking his lips as we passed through herd after herd of well fed goats.


The life of a Somali nomad is spartan and harsh. Most of their lives are spent moving from one area to another, tending their herds of goats and camels and looking for water and suitable grazing land. For a few weeks of the year they may settle down and build a small hut, mostly of twigs and plastic bags. Around the wet season, if Allah has been kind to them and the grazing has been good, they will camp outside the villages and have dances and feasts. This is the traditional time of courting for Somali nomads and stories abound of couples eloping in the night to avoid paying the ‘bride price’ of 50 camels.


We chose Balanbal to establish a health post as it lies halfway between the ‘tarmac’ and the coast on the main ‘road’ or track and as such provides the best possible access for the nomadic people of the region. Access to health care, sanitation and clean drinking water that we consider essential are luxuries to these people and as such, life expectancy is short. The people in Balanbal are friendly and very receptive, despite having been let down by NGOs in the past. We aim not to repeat those mistakes and already have progressed further than our predecessors, much to the satisfaction of the village elders. The clinic rehabilitation was much further advanced than I had expected and it is apparent they are making a real effort.


We sat with the elders and talked (and talked, and talked…) and they killed a ‘young’ goat for us to feast on. While we were waiting for it to arrive, I was a little concerned that they may misconstrue my refusal to eat the goat as an insult, so in the name of proximity, I resolved to at least make a show of eating as small a portion as I could. When they brought it in though, the stench was just too much for me and I jumped up and ran outside before I threw up. Dr Malweyi, the Medical Coordinator, Abdi and the drivers and guards just laughed at the silly Gaal and proceeded to rip off huge chunks of flesh and gorge themselves on it. I was concerned that I might have made a huge gaff, but it seemed that the gusto with which Malweyi attacked the steaming piles of meat well and truly made up for it.


The trip back was uneventful, aside from a broken accelerator cable and some confusion amongst the Somalis when they should stop for their afternoon prayers. It did seem to take forever though. Our driver was Alas, who I fear is a bit short of sight, as he seems to hit every pothole and bump on the road. A gentle man in his fifties, he seems to have a sorrow about him, especially since his mother died recently. Home, to Galcayo, vege samosas, Star Trek on TV and a Friday of lying in bed and reading. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.


The Qat in the hat…


Another of my friends wrote and asked what the hell Qat is, since I never really explained it. Well…


Qat or Miraa is the leaves and stem of the Khat plant grown in Ethiopia and Kenya. The stuff they consume here comes from the Miraa valley in Kenya. To get high, you chew the leaves and stem. I haven't tried it myself, but apparently it is sort of like ephedrine - it speeds you up but makes you feel relaxed. Somalis call getting stoned on it 'building castles in the sky'. Almost every Somali male, from the age of about 6, chews Qat. You see them everywhere, with a little stalk like a toothpick and yellow crumbs around their mouths. Apparently it takes quite a lot of Qat to get really high, so they usually start chewing around 1pm and continue until 1am. They have the Somali equivalent of 'Coffeeshops' where they sit around and chew, smoke cigarettes (which supposedly enhances the high) and drink unbelievably sweet tea. It's probably the kilo of sugar in the tea that helps the Qat buzz, not the tobacco.


They generally buy it in bushels of about half a kilo, which is enough to get you off your face. It looks pretty much just like thin branches with small oval green leaves. The stalks vary from the width of toothpick to 7mm. Bigger than that is impractical to chew. Given that there are no laws of any sort in this country, it is perfectly legal smile.gif To clarify that, the only type of law which is upheld is Moslem Sharia Law, which forbids the consumption of alcohol. Qat is acceptable to most Moslems, as is Hash in many Islamic places (namely Lamu...). None of National Staff chew and they generally disdain those who do. Our guards and drivers, however, are another matter.


It is a HUGE industry here. On average three planes arrive daily from Nairobi carrying about a ton of Qat each. The companies which organise the deals have offices in the CBD of Nairobi and the latest communications equipment. Qat that arrives here is distributed by road as far north as Bosasso (500Km north) and Garacat (300Km East). It is also the source of a lot of fighting, either over the Qat itself or money to buy it. Waiting at the airport for a UN or EU flight when the Qat flights arrive is an experience! Especially watching the over laden, rusted out cars of the Qat runners rattling away at reckless speeds. Many of them don't have lights or doors, some even without windscreens. Tres Mad Max!


I understand that Qat is legal or at least not recognised as a drug in most countries because it is generally so inert that you have to chew a lot of it to get high. The Kenyan stuff is another story in terms of potency though, and is illegal there. Being a thoroughly corrupt country means that this is no hindrance to the Qat growers. Qat does appear to have long term mental health effects, contributing to what the Somalis call 'bufus' which is sort of like an exacerbated form of post traumatic shock syndrome with a nasty dose of psychosis thrown in. Never trust a Qat chewer...



Cholera, guns and men in skirts



Unloading supplies at Galcayo international airport


The wet season has finally come to Somalia and with it, cholera. The initial word we received of an outbreak in Garacat, a small coastal town 250Km west of Galcayo turned out to be a false alarm. No sooner had we begun to relax than reports of an outbreak in Bosasso to the north began filtering in. First it was 20 cases, than 40 and by yesterday, 140. So far, 10 people have died from cholera induced dehydration. Bosasso is the base of nearly 40 international NGOs, including WHO and Unicef, yet they seem to be unable to intervene in any meaningful way. The source of this outbreak is uncertain and therefore the situation in critical. Already, too many people have died from this easily prevented and managed disease. How many more will perish in the slums and rural settlements that surround the city will not be known for months, if ever.


Bosasso is the seat of power for Jama Ali Jama, one of the key players in regional politics. He has been in constant struggle with Adulahi Yusuf, the former president of Puntland, the region that encompasses both Galcayo and Bosasso. The two have been locked in a bitter and violent struggle for power since July last year, when Jama ousted Adulahi from the presidency and forced him back to Galcayo, his home town and traditional power base. In the months between, a bitter Adulahi has been preparing to take power again and has allied himself with Ethiopia, who has supplied him with troops and weapons.


Even as cholera ravages Bosasso, the two factions prepare for war. Rumours abound of a major offensive any day. Technicals, the Somali equivalent of light armour, with 25mm cannons and 105mm recoilless rifles roar past our compound daily, their crews preparing for a bloody confrontation. Business men in Bosasso and Galcayo have swelled the war chests of both Jama and Adulahi, hoping that this will be the final and decisive battle for control of Puntland. The coming of the wet season is also the traditional time for war, when men are able to leave their wives and children to tend their herds of camels and goats.


Here in Galcayo, we are steeling ourselves for a massive influx of trauma cases caused by the fighting. Tomorrow, myself and the doctor will do a stocktake of a our trauma kits and medical supplies. The possibility of cholera spreading here from Bosasso cannot be discounted either, whether it is by IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) escaping the fighting or returning soldiers. The thought of both hitting us at once is a daunting but very real possibility. Today we are making sure we are well rested, as we have no way of knowing what tomorrow, the start of the Moslem working week, will bring. I am concerned for the NGO teams in Bosasso, who will have more than enough on their hands with the cholera epidemic. Considering the weakened and distressed state of the population, this is an ideal time for Adulahi to attack. Rumours also abound of Ethiopian troops massing on the border, secret rendezvous in the US embassy in Addis Abba and house to house searches looking for Al Queida operatives.


All this has happened since the Project Coordinator left on Wednesday for a month, leaving me as acting team leader. Only four weeks into my first mission and I am now responsible for the safety of the team and our preparedness for both the war and a possible cholera outbreak. Ay carumba!


The nurse and midwife had another confrontation with a local nut case yesterday in Bursalah. The man, a cripple, threatened them and threw a thong (flip-flop to non-antipodeans) at Mette. Needless to say, they got the hell out of there as quick as they could. M is glad that she is off on R&R in just under a weeks time.


I’ve been keeping myself busy by organising the pharmacy/store and fixing up the electrical system. I climbed up on the roof and found that there were more cables running along the rafters that were connected to nothing than to anything useful! The rain has also brought its share of impressive electrical storms and the colour of the sky when they come is a dusty red and black, like a scene out of hell itself.


Last night I turned off all of the lights in the compound and lay on the bonnet of one of the cars. The sky at night here is beautiful, the lack of city lights makes the stars so much more visible. Shooting stars sporadically streak across the sky and the constellations, including the familiar Southern Cross are easily discernable. Gazing at the Cross I felt homesick for the first time. My mind wandered back to the many times it had guided me home through unfamiliar territory and I thought of comrades distant who had shared my journeys under Australian skies.


Of late, I have taken to wearing a Marweyis, a Somali sarong. Comfortable, if not vital in the searing heat, it has also improved my standing amongst the men here. Strange how wearing a skirt in one culture is seen as a sign of manliness and as something else altogether in another. Somali men also casually walk around holding hands, lye all over each other and sleep in the same bed. Women with hairy legs are considered to be extremely sexy, not that you would ever see one in public, of course. Yet homosexuals are cast out, even stoned to death sometimes. Another one of the many contradictions in this land of confusion.


Stay tuned for the next instalment of ‘Holy shit, it’s cholera’ coming to a tainted water source near you.



Poet's day


1010170_img.jpg Ah, Friday – "poet’s day" as an old boss of mine used to say. I never liked working on Fridays, well, not on most days come to think of it, but Fridays particularly. It’s one of those things that has made me realise how well Moslem immigrants around the world have adapted to our culture, despite the accusations of many one-eyed ignorant bigots who masquerade as commentators and journalists. How many of you knew that Friday was the Moslem sabbath? I’m learning more and more about this grossly misunderstood religion every day and how much the media manipulates our perceptions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to change my name to Mohammed and start demanding the head of Salman Rushdie! It’s just that the proximity is helping my understanding. It’s not like the other world religions are paragons of virtue either with the western churches under siege for their complicity with the predatory child molesting practices of their priests.


Last Friday I went to the town markets - an amazing experience. A sprawling mass of people selling just about everything you could imagine, from stereo systems to photocopiers, all in amidst the squalor and filth of one of Africa’s poorest nations. A strange kind of desperation seems to hang in the air, as if Somalia can buy itself out of this deep humanitarian crisis that envelops it. Somalia is a glowing advertisement for laisser-faire capitalism, anything you want is available – for a price. Narrow minded ideologues like John Howard and Dubya must fantasize about places like this, where the state has no control over commerce and where supply and demand is a reality of life rather than a vague notion from a bygone era.


I nearly threw up when we got stuck in the meat section. Huge slabs of goat and camel covered in a thick layer of flies. My god, the smell - I can't find words to describe it. Feeling a bit wobbly, we went and had some Chai at one of the cafes down the road. As we sat down, one of the Somalis began rambling at me in a yankee accent, blathering on about black slavery at the ranch. I tried to tell him that I wasn't a Yank, but it seemed like he didn't actually understand English. He rambled on some more and I recognised what he was saying as lines from a Public Enemy rap he must have memorised word for word. The venom in his eyes said it all though - burning hatred and the strange, disjointed glare of psychosis. Our guard suggested we politely get the **** out of there before he had to start killing people and we buggered off back to the compound.


Later on that night, we heard several exchanges of gunfire and one of our translators, Abdi, called us saying there had been a shoot-out at the airport. Three guards had been seriously wounded and the attacker shot in the chest. Abdi rushed to the compound and collected a trauma kit (a euphemism for a box of stuff to treat shot people with). When we asked Abdi if we should be concerned he just shrugged his shoulders and said that this was just another night in Galcayo. Later on we heard numerous volleys of automatic gunfire, but no reports of any fatalities. It has to be said that these Somalis are worse shots than the Indians in John Wayne movies! I have no desire to find out first hand though.


The next day, the nurse, went to the Emergency Room at the hospital to do her morning rounds. Lying on a stretcher with a weeping chest wound was the same guy who had hassled me at the cafe. He began 'yo-ing' her and doing that gangsta hand thing. It came out that he was the guy who had gone 'boofy' (crazy in Somali) the night before and attacked the guards at the airport! Now he's back on the street and probably crazier than ever. Usually under these conditions, he would be dead the next day from a reprisal by the clan of the guards he shot, but as my PC says 'the bad grass never dies'. He is the son of one of the clan elders and as such, will have his gun taken off him (!!) and slapped on the wrist. The guards will get a few goats or camels in compensation and that will be the end of the matter. That is, until he goes down the market and buys another gun. US$100 buys an AK-47 or US$150 a berretta 9mm pistol. I'll be watching my back every time I leave the compound from now on.


Anyway, that's life (and death) here in crazy ol' Somalia. A world and a century away from the life I knew in Australia. Sad to think that only a decade ago, Somalia was becoming a modernised, progressive nation. How quickly things can change. Over 66% of Somalis have been personally brutalised by this war. 80% know someone who was raped or tortured. Add religious fundamentalism and widespread addiction to a psychosis inducing drug like Qat and you've got a powder keg waiting to go off.


Yet, I still see hope here. On Tuesday we went back to a health post we established with the local community in a town called Bursallah, about 2 hours cross country drive from Galcayo. The people here are genuine, committed and enthusiastic. They still talk a bit too much about money for my liking (everything is a business here - everything) but at least it’s a lower priority to them than most other Somalis. I had a moment here the week before that made my heart melt into a little puddle on the ground. I was unloading some drugs and medical supplies from our vehicle and this gorgeous little Somali girl, maybe about 4 years old, came up to me and said 'Thank you'. I nearly cried. It's moments like this that make it all worthwhile.


We have 'mains' power for a few hours every day, a huge battery bank and a generator which we run on days that we don't get grid power. We also have a solar array which powers all the communications equipment. I’m getting my hands dirty and loving every minute of it. I am getting a mite bit pissed off with the kerosene fridges here, which seem to break down every other day. This makes maintaining a cold chain for our vaccines a real head ache and nothing tastes worse than a warm Canada Dry Cola (the local, non-imperialist version of Coke) after a stinking hot dusty day.


The compound water supply is teeming with E.Coli (the bacteria that makes your shit stink) so the only way to stop ourselves from getting diahorrea is to drink and brush our teeth with bottled water. I got so pissed off with my shower stinking of shit that I bung a few grams of Chlorine in the water reservoir. Okay, I might die of liver failure when I'm 60, but the anti-malaria drugs are going to do that anyway. It’s about the only thing that really drives me boofy here. I wake up most mornings dreaming of hot showers that don’t stink.


Our Yankee Catholic Fundamentalist Financial Controller (FinCo or YCFFC if you want to go anagram crazy) has been staying for the last few days. Surprisingly, I quite enjoy his company, and not just because he’s such an easy target for taking the piss. For somebody who embodies four of my most loathed aspects of humanity, he is a genuinely nice guy, very intelligent and unlike the majority of his countrymen, he understands irony. Admittedly, he is a vegetarian and a kick *** cook, which wins him automatic brownie points in my book. I would hardly call him patriotic either, but it’s fun to watch him squirm when Jerry Springer is on television. He does get his revenge when they show the Crocodile hunter though.


Speaking of vegetarianism, I have rejoined the fold. After me experience in the food court and several days of not feeling quite right, I asked the cook if she could stop cooking meat for me. She was extremely puzzled and wanted to know what I was going to eat then? To her credit, she has been making an excellent effort and today is now the end of my first meat free week since I got here. I’m feeling much healthier and happier. The Somali diet is high in meat and low in just about everything else and the women do all the work. As a result, most Somali men are weedy, pot bellied creatures. I sometimes wonder how much of the gun culture here is a form of compensation for this.


Now we are waiting for word on a possible cholera outbreak on the coast. If it turns out to be true, than my next few days will be hectic to say the least but currently it looks unlikely. Cholera is one of the medical emergencies that we deal with that has more to do with logistics than medical. There is only so much you can do to help the ill, the rest is in containment and prevention.


Today is also prophylaxis day, when I take my 250mg of Mefloquin to keep Malaria at bay. So far I haven’t experienced any of the nasty physical side effects, but I have been having some far out dreams. I call it the ex-girlfriend drug, because I keep having nightmares where all my exes come back to haunt me. I also have dreams about my ex boss ranting at me in Italian. I guess Jung would have a field day with what’s going inside my head when I’m asleep.


Well folks, that’s all for now. There’s a lot more going on, but sometimes I just find it so hard to describe what I’m seeing here in a way that does it justice. At the very least I will have to record some of the sounds here – mosque bullhorns wailing at 4am, the cries of children mingled with the sounds of mewling goats and the ever present pop-pop-pop of kalashnikovs in the distance.

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Desert Flower



Huts in the desert. Balambal



Unexploded mortar round



Gaalkacyo from the air



Everything you need for the house



Unloading planes from Dubai



Hotel Warsame, Goldogob



Camels for sale in Goldogob

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^^nice pictures there Sky


Somali men also casually walk around holding hands, lye all over each other
and sleep in the same bed
. ...


Yet homosexuals are cast out, even stoned to death sometimes. Another one of the many contradictions in this land of confusion.

I've seen guys holding hands heterosexually. But sleeping in the same bed? :eek: :eek: hmmm


Women with hairy legs are considered to be extremely sexy, not that you would ever see one in public, of course

Timo and Xaad, There is a difference isn't it?

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